Remembering my mentor, Randy Hayes


As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Our mentors matter. They help us see more of ourselves than we can ever see; our faults, our promise, and our potential. I just lost a friend and mentor, Randy Hayes. He mattered.

Chris Clark
Chris Clark

Twenty-five years ago he started calling me to come work for the Development Authority in Fayette County. A year had gone by before I agreed to meet with him at the old courthouse in Fayetteville. I had no idea that he would become my mentor and teach me more than I could ever comprehend.

Randy took me under his wing simply because he loved others. He had built a successful home building and supply business. He gave politics a try, was an incredible community leader and regional voice of reason…but what really mattered were faith, family and shepherding the next generation of young guys like me.

As I mourn his loss I’ve been reflecting on the critical lessons he taught me. I think he can teach you too.

Need Over Want

A few weeks before I met with Randy for the first time, I was visiting my Grandmother in her hospital bed. I bragged about all the companies and communities offering me a job when she chastised me for my prideful boasting. She then noted, “It’s nice to be wanted but it’s far more important to be needed in life. Go serve where you’re needed.”

I had interviewed with nearly a dozen potential employers when Randy and I sat down. I didn’t want to move to Fayette County, heck I couldn’t even find it off the interstate without stopping and asking for directions (this is way before Waze).

But as we finished our day together he leaned forward and told me in the clearest means possible that the development authority, and the community “needed me.”

He followed the same values that my Grandmother did…Randy served where he was needed. Because of him I realized that I could make a difference here. This could become my home. It did. Since that moment, I’ve always looked for the need over the want.

Perfect Your Craft

I’ll never forget the other lesson from that initial encounter. The very first question in the interview was dramatic, “Are you the best economic developer in the state?”

I responded with a hushed, “No, sir. I’m not. Yet.”

He smiled and said, “By the time you leave here you will be.”

I soon learned that he was serious. Randy invested in me. He sent me to every class, took me to every meeting, allowed me to shadow him, to learn from others. He found me mentors. I was expected to get certifications, take classes, to travel and learn. There was no excuse for not getting better, for working hard, to pushing myself. He valued a strong work ethic, of out hustling anyone else and of owning my shortcomings and mistakes. This was a craft, just like homebuilding, and I was expected to master it. I’m still learning today!

Don’t Take It Personally

I arrived in Fayette County in the middle of an incredible rise of NIMBYism. Many elected leaders refused to recruit quality jobs and most residents drove into Atlanta each day. There were few economic hubs in the county and part of our job was to change that mentality. It wasn’t easy.

One day we were called into the county commission chairman’s office full of elected officials (I’m sure they were breaking the open records law). Well, the Chairman barked at us for an hour and threatened to cut our budget.

I popped off and stormed out. Randy calmly finished the meeting and walked over to my office. He gently explained that the attitude about job creation had nothing to do with me or my job performance. It was simply grandstanding for the audience. If I was going to be successful in the public eye, I had to learn to separate my personal feelings from the political environment and sentiment. It was also a valuable lesson in pride and ego. He told me, “Just do the job and everything will work out.” I did. It did.

Life Is An Adventure

A good mentor helps you see far beyond the office and Randy was no different. Once, while we were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway (a brief break from a work trip) he yelled for me to pull over. I swerved onto a narrow strip of dirt stopping short of a long drop off into the ocean below. He jumped out and flagged down a car. What was happening? The urgent need? He wanted them to take a photo of us to remember the day (this was before selfies)! He also made sure I rented the convertible. Life’s too short for boring rentals.

He would try kayaking (against his better judgment) because he knew I loved to paddle. He’d reluctantly eat sushi, get last minute tickets to a game, wake up at 4 a.m. to play a round of golf on a famed course. Life needed to be lived. Try new things. Enjoy this time we have.

Patiently Shepherd Your Relationships

Faith and family mattered more than anything else. As I started my new relationship with my now wife Tiffany, he was there to caution me, to listen, and to help me prioritize. This new relationship was full of possibilities, he told me, and it was the start of a new life. Randy cared about people. He checked in, called, sent a note every once in a while to let you know he was thinking about you. He knew how to shepherd his flock and friends.

He stood up for those on his team, for those he cared about. He once told an angry Governor that as a community, we’d stand behind our locally elected leaders even if would cost us a project. It did. It was the first time I had ever been thrown out of the Governor’s office, but at least I was in good company. Speaking of politics…

Character Matters More Than Party or Title

Randy ran for office once at the urging of everyone around him. He lost. Right man, wrong time. I don’t think he would have done well in the General Assembly. He was never comfortable in the political arena because he was looking for something far deeper than platitudes and position papers. He was an everyman that voted for character over party. Sure, he’d write the checks and show up for a campaign rally, but he wanted to know how the candidates treated people.

He was like that with project executives we’d wine and dine. It was never about the title or the deal. It was always about the character. An important part of that was humility. He could see right through you. It was never about him or his position, it was always about the community, about helping others. Randy had character. Integrity. Honesty. We need more character.

Live With Immense Appreciation

Our little development authority board met monthly in our large board room for a working lunch. Worried about the budget, I cut back on the lunch and in doing so cut out Randy’s favorite part…dessert. The next day I was called to his office. I was worried. I hadn’t been on the job 45 days and I was in trouble.

“It’s not about lunch. It is about dessert,” he continued, “I need it, I like it. But most importantly it’s an easy way to say thank you to these busy folks who give us time every month for no pay and no glory.”

We never skimped on dessert again. Saying thank you mattered, even in small ways. No matter where we went, Randy was joyful and happy to see others. Just glad to be invited. Thrilled with life. In awe of nature. He just lived with an attitude of gratitude.

I’ll admit because Randy would…I’m crying as I write this. It’s hard to say goodbye but I’m so thankful that I got the time with Randy that I did, and that he chose me to pour into. I have several other friends like Brian, Matt, and Brandt that he mentored as well…and a long list of others I’ll never know. We’re better men because of him. This community is better for his statesmanship.

Our lives are not measured by our toys or trips, but by how we impact those around us and in our community. That’s what matters. Randy knew that. We’re all better for his servant hearted approach to life. This world is a little better because he loved and gave back. That’s all any of us can hope for. I’ll miss you, my friend.

Chris Clark

President/CEO at Georgia Chamber of Commerce

Atlanta, Ga.

April 2, 2024